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Berserker's avatar

Did pirates really have parrots as pets?

Asked by Berserker (33475points) October 29th, 2016

We all know that pirates, in real life, were probably not quite the same as they are portrayed in stories, and that piracy itself is probably as old as prostitution. It was not solely reserved to the fellows who made it known during the golden age of piracy. Julius Caesar was captured by pirates, there were Chinese pirates years before, and there are still some today, although now they have machine guns and assault rifles.

They stole, they smuggled, there are myths and there are truths. But I want to know about the parrots. Where did this idea come from? Was there a famous pirate that had a parrot as a pet? I assume that if they were known for having exotic animals like parrots and monkeys on board, it was to sell them or smuggle them in places where there were no such animals. But wouldn’t the animal, away from its environment, eventually die? Or wouldn’t the crew get sick from bites, parasites and whatnot?

You’d think the only pets sailors would want would be cats, so they could kill any rat that may be on board, rats that get into food supplies and such. Or perhaps not, as cats marking their territory might be hazardous to food or water?

So where do these parrots come from? Why would pirates want them? Help me clarify this. Thanks, later.

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44 Answers

filmfann's avatar

Are you suggesting that the movies lie to me?

stanleybmanly's avatar

It’s a good bet that more than one pirate had a parrot, and just as with the other stereotypes like the hook where a hand should be, it’s the sort of thing that would be noticed and talked up.

Coloma's avatar

I’m sure some Pirates had parrots, especially if they were traveling in tropical areas with an abundance of them. Maybe monkeys too. Cats are afraid of large parrots, my old Military Macaw had the cats running from him. All he had to do was put his head down and do his little shuffling rush at the cats and they would scatter. haha

kritiper's avatar

Some did. Others had pets like monkeys.

zenvelo's avatar

Some had cats. Always nice to keep the vermin out of the cabin.

Seek's avatar

There’s no actual evidence to suggest any real pirate had any real pet parrot. Their is evidence of parrots and parrot cages in ships’ manifests from the so-called “golden age of piracy”, which isn’t really surprising considering they were popular and fashionable exotic pets in Europe at the time.

The popular notion that pirates have pet parrots comes from Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson himself got the idea from Robinson Crusoe – where the narrator captures a parrot and keeps it as a pet.

Source

azlotto's avatar

Could have, but probably not for long…Arrr, parrots tastes like chicken.

ucme's avatar

I’ve always thought it an odd pet for a pirate to have, maybe that’s why so many of them wore an eye patch because the fucking parrot mauled their eyeball clean out :D
I love Edward Teach or Blackbeard to give him his “yoo-hoo, fancy pants” name, he never had no stinkin bird…except for dinner maybe.

Coloma's avatar

I think @Seek sharing is probably the truest. I always thought that Pirates probably had parrots because they often traveled in the tropics.

Strauss's avatar

Let’s hear it from our resident pirate! What say you, Cap’n Crow?

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

According to Colin Woodard in The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down the parrot trope was based on real truths.

Parrots weren’t necessarily brought onboard as shipboard pets, but as loot. During what is called the “Golden Age of Piracy” (1600 – 1750), the exotic animal trade blossomed in Europe to feed the ever voracious appetite among the aristocracy for entertainment. Colorful, large parrots were extremely desirable and brought a pretty penny, especially in the bird markets of London and Le Havre.

So, it isn’t beyond the realm of reality that there were, at times, parrots on board and that these beautiful, entertaining, very intelligent birds who could be taught to talk were kept by some to get break the monotony of long voyages that could last weeks or months. And these animals don’t eat much, they can live on dried fruits, grain and nuts that is easily stored in the hold. They were also less mischievous and ate less than monkeys, which were certainly documented as popular shipboard entertainment.

But so far, among the contemporary journals of the age, there is no documented evidence of a pirate walking around with a large parrot on his shoulder, like Stevenson’s Long John Silver. But this isn’t too far fetched either, for when a crew hit a safe harbor like Port Royale Jamaica, any edge a man had over the others to attract female attention would be most desirable—and a parrot on one’s shoulder would certainly do that. It is equally as likely that if the voyage was not lucrative, the parrot would be sold or traded for goods and services.

The best parrots came from Vera Cruz, which is today still a hotbed of the illegal exotic bird trade.

Other tropes, like the eye patch and peg leg are well documented due to the injuries received in battle and in fights among the pirates themselves while in port. There are five instances of pirates making uncooperative crews walk the plank, but this long, drawn out, elaborate ceremony was used to obtain information, not for entertainment. It was much easier to simply throw them over board. And among the more sadistic madmen, like Francois L’Ollonais as depicted in Alexandre Esquemeling’s contemporary account written in 1678 (<—Free Copy) about his years among the pirates of the Caribbean, there were other, more effective tortures for getting information.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I don’t know anything about pirates but I’m mytee gla’ ta see ya’ matey! Arrrh! .

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Glad to see you, too, Lucky.

Coloma's avatar

Polly wanna cracker?

Berserker's avatar

@stanleybmanly Speaking of, did pirates really have hook hands and peg legs? I’m guessing that back then, when sailors got scurvy or gangrene most of them probably died from it. Untreated cases of both don’t leave much hope in advanced states.

@zenvelo I aso heard sailors liked to have caged pigeons, crows or seagulls that they would release when they wanted to know if land was nearby. If the bird didn’t come back it meant there was land somewhere.

@Seek and @Espiritus_Corvus Thanks for the informed answers. So those famous stories helped create the whole parrot thing. I’ve never read Treasure Island. Anyone here have? Is it any good? I remember a cartoon of it as a kid though.
But I guess I wasn’t too far off, in guessing that exotic animals could be traded or sold. Although I probably read that somewhere, I just don’t remember.
I was also wondering about the plank. Weird how certain things have been done a few times, yet they seem to define the entirety of a thing. I wonder what other crazy business pirates did but were never recorded. Probably a lot.

@ucme You know though, I sort of was thinking that. If you had a wild parrot hanging around on your shoulder, what are the chances that it would just stay there? And if it did, it would bite you, shit on your fancy pirate coat and whatnot. Apparently parrot bites hurt like a she-dog and you can get some nasty diseases from it.

Haha I’m just imagining a big mean pirate with a toucan on his shoulder.

Thanks for all your answers mateys, appreciated. and hi @LuckyGuy “waves”

Coloma's avatar

@Berserker My old Military Macaw ” Louie” once snapped a stair rail dowl in one clip. You can always tell with parrots when they are about to go beserk, their pupils start dilating and contracting like pinwheels in the seconds before they launch into an excited scream or bite. haha They call it “eye pinning.”

Berserker's avatar

@Coloma Wow, they have strong beaks, as I would expect. Good to know, if I ever come across an angry parrot.

Well once I was in a pet shop and they had a huge red and blue parrot. Don’t know the name, but the most famous parrot you always see in movies amd such. A bunch of people were surrounding the bird and making high pitched noises at it, like you would with a kitten or a puppy. The parrot was freaking out, flapping its wings and squawking like mad. This seemed to attract the people even more, although I’m guessing the parrot was afraid, then one of the girls working there took it away into the back of the store.
Even I figured that the parrot freaking out was probably giving out warnings, why couldn’t those people see it as well?

stanleybmanly's avatar

@Berserker The percentage of amputees in the pirate population was probably not much larger than that found in the military or other hazardous work demographics. But think about pirates and how they make a living. If today you’re in a bank and a one armed robber sticks the place up, the descriptions from witnesses are going to vary considerably except for the one distinguishing characteristic on which ALL will agree.

Coloma's avatar

@Berserker Yep, stimulation overload. They are very sensitive birds.

zenvelo's avatar

@Berserker I highly recommend reading Treasure Island. Very entertaining, and you’ll be surprised how much of the day to day language we use arose from that book.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@Berserker

Treasure Island (Illustrated). You can read it online Here
Choice of download formats (Public Domain)

Most pirate amputations were due to gangrenous injuries. Others were due to sword fighting and canon warfare with naval ships using grapeshot and chainshot. They would load their canons with anything metal—chains, scrap metal, grapeshot—that would clear the opposition’s decks quickly of crew and shred their sails to disable a ship. Up close, it was very effective. 8 to 34 lb iron balls were used at longer distances to breach the hull and slow a ship.

18th century prosthetic hook with interchangeable attachments.
19th century hook
Another 19th century hook. Note that this is made from a seamans’s gaff hook.
Peg leg prostheses The one on the left is from the 17th century and the one on the right is from the 19th century.

The wooden peg leg prosthesis, under normal circumstances, was meant to be temporary while the permanent prosthesis was being fashioned by an artisan in a shop. But they could easily be made from the spare or broken spars of a ship and were also easily repaired throughout the life of the amputee. There were a lack of qualified artisans in pirate waters, so the peg leg sufficed. And proper prostheses were for the rich, not the common man.

Elaborate prostheses, such as carved or metal hands and feet—and even wooden toes so one could walk properly—have been produced since the time of ancient Egypt.

Who chose the pirate life? These crews were made up of an international conglomeration of runaway slaves, abused indentured servants like Esquemeling (see my last post), AWOL navy conscripts tired of the low pay, abuse and years of forced drudgery. criminals on the run, escaped prisoners from transport ships and even a few women pirates. They came from varying backgrounds, classes and levels of education. It wasn’t an easy life and things back home had to be awfully bad for someone to choose it.

The faint Scottish accent we attribute to pirates today was far from the norm. This was popularized by R. L. Stevenson in his books Kidnapped! and Treasure Island, as he himself was a Scot. The film, Treasure Island (1934) with Wallace Beery as Long John Silver kept the myth afloat until today.

Here list of his books available for free download from Project Gutenberg.

ucme's avatar

“Who’s that sucker with a parrot on his shoulder” The warrior poets that were the Beastie Boys

ucme's avatar

@Yetanotheruser Hahahaha all I got was some Bollywood warbler, but hey…I getcha ;-}

Ali Baba & the forty thieves
Ali Baba & the forty thieves
Ali Baba & the forty thieves
Ali Baba & the forty thieves…

Strauss's avatar

@ucme haha! OOPS! I meant this one.

Berserker's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus Shiver me timbers, they really did have hook hands and peg legs. Well I’ll be damned. Thanks for all the info, this is neat.

@zenvelo Right then, I should find this book somewhere. And although not about pirates, is Moby Dick good? I kmow it’s supposed to be some big fancy giant of literature.

Strauss's avatar

@Berserker Moby Dick isa really good read. I read the whole thing through required reading some fifty years ago, and I can still remember some of the imagery that was evoked.

zenvelo's avatar

@Berserker Moby Dick is excellent. Plus you will learn more about whaling short of going on a 19th Century whaleship.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Tonight, 10/31, we dance the Mamushka for you!

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@Berserker

Moby Dick. Readable online.
Moby Dick. Downloadable pdf format (First Edition, 1851).
Moby Dick is in the Public Domain Ⓟ

At the beginning of my last post you will find links to free online and downloadable pdf copies of Treasure Island Ⓟ, 1915 edition, Illustrated by Milo Winter ©.

@LuckyGuy Opah!

Strauss's avatar

Think I’ll read it again, just for OTS

Berserker's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus Aye, noted capn. I’ll dl it if I can’t find a physical copy, as I much prefer that than online books. Good to have a backup though.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@Berserker Yeah, I prefer hard copy as well, but I don’t have the space for them on the boat and I travel too much to carry them around, so I make do with books off the net. I once shipped 26 boxes of books to Sweden from the US and in ten years only opened one of them, then shipped 40 boxes back home again, including the original 26. The extras were mainly first edition English books I’d found at amazing prices in shops in Europe. When I went sailing I sold them off, which was a heartbreaker. Never again. My extensive library is now on the laptop and a terabyte harddrive.

The downside is they aren’t visible on shelves in my study, the upside is every copy is searchable by word or phrase for quick reference.

Berserker's avatar

I feel your pain. Moving from one province to another, I lost plenty of books myself. Having only a few bags to pack stuff with, most of my shit was abandoned. Just couldn’t take everything. I left some with a person who was to send books and video games back to me eventually, but they lost everything.
Should have just buried everything haha.

Coloma's avatar

OMG! You guys should see my neighbors house, they must have 40,000 books. It is a really nice house, but seriously, one could die if the books over there fell on you. Their entire upstairs in wall to wall books, shelves, free standing racks, books, books, everywhere. I like books but this is not just liking books, this is extreme book hoarding. lol

Seek's avatar

:: looks around at extreme book hoard ::

Strauss's avatar

:: looks around at extreme book hoard ::

LuckyGuy's avatar

Hard copy books are more than just collections of thoughts and ideas. They comfort you in other, not so obvious, ways.
A shelf full of books absorbs sound and breaks up sound reflections making the room quieter.
It provides thermal mass reducing temperature swings in your home.
In an emergency a book can be used as fuel to start a fire.
A 20 pound pile of books in a wood burning stove gives off the same heat as a gallon of heating oil, currently worth about $2.50.
A book shelf near (but not touching) an outside wall acts as insulation and reduces heating and cooling costs.
They can be used as step ladders to grab something just out of reach.
and so on…
I figure if you have the space today, you might as well keep the books. You can always get rid of them tomorrow.

…said the hoarder to the cleanup crew.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Berserker I am sorry for your loss. That must have been difficult. Hopefully it was also freeing.

Coloma's avatar

Funny story. An old friends husband was a Natl. Geographic hoarder and had like four or five 6–7 foot tall stacks of them in his garage. She had begged and pleaded with him to get rid of the magazines forever and then, one day, he pulled into the garage and bumoed into the wall of mags. at the front, and the whole stack collapsed on the roof & hood of his BMW and totally dented the car. lol
He finally thinned the herd after that.

LuckyGuy's avatar

But National Geographics are the best! They are beautiful! And are always full of great info!
I’ve had a subscription for over 30 years. My kids used them as cut-ups for school projects. I also pass them along to others whenever I get a chance. I leave them at doctors’ offices, give them to nephew’s kids,or to friends that have a particular interest in one of the subjects, the hair cutter, etc. I dispose of Scientific American magazines the same way.
I’d turn them to BTUs in my woodburner if they didn’t leave so much ash.

Coloma's avatar

@LuckyGuy I love them too, and Smithsonian mag. but man, 30 years of Nat. Geo hoarding is quite the anchor. haha

Seek's avatar

I like the pull-out posters from Nat Geo. I have a few on human evolution waiting for a wall big enough to put them on.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Coloma To be clear, I don’t save them. I move them along – and make them someone else’s problem. :-).

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